housingMilitant JournalismNew York City

Bronx tenants to local politicians: ‘Cancel the rents!’

Around 250 tenants and advocates gathered in the northeast Bronx on March 11 to continue the fight to cancel rent in New York City. The Bronx is home to one of the highest populations of working-class renters in the city, in addition to being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Organizers rallied then marched to the office of New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, demanding action from legislators to prevent an eviction wave that will come if rent is not canceled for all tenants. Heastie has downplayed the housing crisis.

The action was organized by Housing Justice for All, Community Action for Safe Apartments, the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and others. There, tenants explained that the injustice of an already unacceptable housing situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic. And demanded action from the government.

No relief for tenants

A year into the pandemic, the economic crisis continues to deepen for workers in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of New York City residents have lost income due to the pandemic, and minimal relief has caused many to fall behind on rent. While a  moratorium on evictions allowed tenants to avoid displacement temporarily,  housing courts across the city reopened March 1, with the ability to evict. Tenants can file for a hardship waiver to extend their protection until May, but unless rent is canceled altogether, their rent debt will only continue to pile up.

Attendees at the demonstration denounced the city’s inadequate response. “People have just been pushing the moratorium further and further without any true solutions, so there’s a lot of unrest,” explained Mahfuzul Islam, a Queens resident. 

Tenants and organizers have long demanded that complete cancellation of rents and mortgages is the only solution to protect the lives of workers across the country. Many community activists, like Chaplain Sandra Mitchell, say tax the rich in order to bail out the people. “Everyone needs to carry their own share. I believe in taxing the rich. They don’t pay their taxes, they get write-offs, they get tax cuts. Now we can’t pay because we don’t have jobs, and the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Tax the rich, pay your share!”

Tenants see through fake state assistance

The Bronx action is one of many tenant demonstrations across the city demanding that the state respond to people’s needs. Last week, an action targeted state senator Brian Kavanagh’s means-tested rent “relief” bill heralded as “the end of the rent cancellation movement” by the real estate lobby. 

These targeted demonstrations are a testament to the increasing anger of tenants toward Democratic politicians that pay lip service to the tenant movement, but prevent real rent cancellation.  Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition organizer Juan Nuñez expressed frustration at such gestures. “We are sick and tired of empty promises from politicians,” he proclaimed. “We are asking for the minimum, and there’s still nothing.” 

Many attendees noted the inaccessibility of previous and proposed rent relief packages. Nuñez continued, “Oh, you want to apply for rent relief? Well you’re gonna need IDs, we’re gonna need documentation. If you don’t speak the language, good luck! If you’re undocumented, you get nothing.”

The fight for housing justice continues

The current crisis exposes the inhumane state of housing under capitalism, where landlords and the rental market exploit workers for profit. “You should not have to have two jobs to pay rent — one job should be enough! You don’t have time for recreation [or] family time, because you’re busy working. What is this quality of life?” lamented Agatha Duncan. “[The United States is] a super-rich country and this is the condition that people live under? This is a shame!”

The tenant movement is growing more determined each day to expose and fight the injustice of housing under capitalism.

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